Sunday, November 28, 2021

Naples’ Fitness Challenge Triathlon’s Farewell Event at the Naples Beach Hotel

Photos by Maria Lamb
| The Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club, formerly owned by the Watkins family, is scheduled to be demolished June 2021 by new owners The Athens Group. Thank you to the Watkins family for 35 years of hosting the Naples Fitness Challenge Triathlon.


On Sunday, May 2, the 35th Fitness Challenge Triathlon was held at the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club for the last time. For the last 35 years, this event has been held at the Naples Beach Hotel. The race coordinator and athletes thanked the Watkins Family for opening the Naples Beach Hotel facilities yearly to make this community event possible.

Photo credit by NASA, scanned by NASA Johnson
| Michael Collins laying down, observing a checklist in a simulator of the command module, June 19, 1969. Michael Collins flew the Apollo 11 command module Columbia around the moon in 1969 while his crewmates, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made the first crewed landing July 20, on the surface of the moon.

Congratulations to all the participants and special shout out to all the Marco triathletes who made this event very special: Nicole Cholka, Lauren Bogan, Dr. Patricia Poling and daughter Eileen, Rebecca Dowd, Ali Tisdall, Paul Tateo, Dawn Snyder, Charles Lamb and Lauren Schram.

A special thank you to all the over 200 volunteers for making this event possible.

In 1986, the Fitness Challenge Triathlon started with a handful of 90 participants and for its 35th year, over 600 triathletes signed up. Linda Gregory, the current Race Director, started with the original group in 1986 and became Race Director in 2002 to the present. 

Everyone knows that triathlon is about swimming, bike riding and running. But the Sunday event was a REVERSE Triathlon. The athletes started with a 5K run, then came a 14-mile bike route through beautiful Naples and last was an open water quarter mile swim in the Gulf of Mexico.



The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Resort has been an iconic landmark for 75 years, but it is scheduled to be demolished in June 2021 with a planned reopening in 2023. The new hotel will be three stories higher than it is now. The new owners, The Athens Group, plan to keep 100 acres as open and recreation space as well as provide beachfront dining and keep the golf course open to the public. Homeowners adjacent to the golf course had prominent signs on their front lawns to save the 18-hole golf course. The Athens Group is planning to reduce the golf course to 10 holes.

Photos by Maria Lamb

In 2020, the event was cancelled due to COVID. According to Linda Gregory, Race Director, they are looking for a new race location for 2022. 

A moment of silence for a very special triathlete – Michael Collins! 

The Fitness Challenge Community knew Michael Collins as a triathlete who participated in numerous challenges in Naples and Marco Island. He proudly represented the senior age group with his impressive finish times. During these events, he was accompanied by his children along with several grandchildren. Michael was always very friendly and easy going and we are going to miss him. 

Michael Collins (October 31, 1930 to April 28, 2021) was an American astronaut who flew the Apollo 11 command module Columbia around the moon in 1969 while his crewmates, Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin, made the first crewed landing on the surface of the moon.

On April 28, 2021, the Collins family shared this statement, “We regret to share that our beloved father and grandfather passed away today, after a valiant battle with cancer,” the statement began. “He spent his final days peacefully, with his family by his side. Mike always faced the challenges of life with grace and humility, and faced this, his final challenge, in the same way.”

To reflect on the positive aspects of Michael’s life, it went on to read, “We will miss him terribly. Yet we also know how lucky Mike felt to have lived the life he did. We will honor his wish for us to celebrate, not mourn, that life. Please join us in fondly and joyfully remembering his sharp wit, his quiet sense of purpose, and his wise perspective, gained both from looking back at Earth from the vantage of space and gazing across calm waters from the deck of his fishing boat.”



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